Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Originally written by Mark Twain in 1898 and adapted by David Ives more than 100 years later, Is He Dead? is set in a small town in France where the poor painter Jean-François Millet, who is madly in love with Marie Leroux, discovers that, due to a contract, he has to either pay his domineering benefactor Bastien André 15,000 francs or Marie will be forced to marry André. His three close friends attempt to draw clientele to his studio in order for Millet to pay off his debt, and one of these potential art buyers states that Millet's works would be worth more if he were dead. That comment sets in motion a chain reaction of farcical elements and guffaw-inducing comical moments that involve Millet faking his own death and masquerading as his grieving twin sister in hopes of collecting the funds from the now much higher priced paintings. Of course, this great scheme doesn't go exactly as planned.
While the plot is intriguing and the play has plenty of humor, there is a large cast of characters that need to be introduced and a lot of exposition and plot details in the first fifteen minutes, so the play takes a little while until it fully kicks into gear. Also, the show is somewhat uneven with the second act much funnier than the first.
Fortunately, Hale's cast is quite good, which helps to offset some of the script's shortcomings. Jeff Deglow is completely believable as both the hardworking and talented artist Millet as well as his flirty and high-spirited "sister" Daisy. Deglow is charming and comically delicious as Daisy and he delivers an excellent portrayal of these two very different individuals. Kelly Nicole is full of compassion and strength as Marie, while Eric Mitchell, Chuck Green and Thomas Petrungaro form a rambunctious and energetic trio as Millet's three closest friends.
Laura Anne Kenney has an expert command of the stage as Marie's sister Cecile. She provides plenty of heart and humor in the second act when she appears in a disguise. In several smaller parts, Matthew Crosby is an absolute hoot and completely unrecognizable from one role to another. As André, Mark Tumey provides the right amount of comic foolishness beneath a menacing exterior, while Joe Musil as Marie and Cecile's father, and Kathi Osborne and Bobby Jean Owensby as Millet's older female neighbors provide appropriate moments of high-energy comedy and a big amount of charm.
Director M. Seth Reines, with expert contributions from Brian Daily's bright and elegant scenic design, Mary Atkinson's exquisite costumes, and the period perfect wigs and make-up from Cambrian James, manages to instill a realistic sense of the mid-1800s time period to this production. Reines also ensures that his entire cast deliver the comic moments so they shine and earn plenty of big laughs. Jeff A. Davis provides his usual high level of expertise in his bright and beautiful lighting design.
Is He Dead? may not be a perfect comedy, but with a talented cast and impressive creative elements Hale's production manages to deliver some big laughs beneath its big heart.
The Hale Centre Theatre production of Is He Dead? runs through February 11th, 2017, with performances at 50 W. Page Avenue in Gilbert AZ. Tickets can be ordered at www.haletheatrearizona.com or by calling (480) 497-1181.
Directed by M. Seth Reines